Why We Shouldn’t View Our Hobby of Photography as a Competition


It’s undeniable that life is often seen as a kind of race or competition, but I absolutely despise this idea.

For kids, it’s about academic grading (which school they go to), athletic ability (who plays sports better), their looks (who is more popular among girls/boys), etc.

As we grow older, we face the harsher realities of life, as the difference of being one or the other for things like salary and socioeconomic status matters significantly more. As an Average Joe myself, I’ve always tried to keep myself from viewing life as a race, but those who are “successful” might be thinking that I’m just deceiving myself.

Hobbies Let You Live a Different Life

That’s where hobbies come to the rescue. Hobbies are supposed to be an escape from the reality of everyday life. No matter how hard or even miserable your real life is, hobbies let you live a different life. A hobby is supposed to be a sacred pastime with no winners or losers. It should be just you and a hobby for the sheer joy of it.

For instance, I love listening to jazz music, cycling, and feeding cats. Those are my small hobbies (me time!) that can never be turned into competitions. Nobody competes on the number of stray cats they feed. That said, photography is a little different. Let me unpack.

A cat at Ainoshima, a.k.a. cat heaven island in Fukuoka, Japan. I’m hoping to go and meet the cats again once COVID is over.

Social Media Has Drastically Changed the Way We Share Our Photos

Before the Internet and social media came along, photography was more of a private hobby than it is today. I saw my father taking photos with a Pentax film camera, getting the film developed and printed, putting photos in a photo album, showing it to family and close friends, and it didn’t go anywhere beyond that.

Today, photos can easily go beyond our close circle thanks to the power of social media. In fact, social media has drastically changed the way we share our photos and also connected people that would have never met or even known about each other.

“Likes” Creating an Unnecessary Hierarchy

All these sound good, but on the flip side, the gamification element of social media (e.g. who gets more “Likes”) has inevitably created an unnecessary hierarchy among participants. Some of them become very popular, Insta-famous, influencers, etc. while others are left unnoticed, just like in real life.

Looking back at history, it’s said that “Likes” were first introduced in 2005 by Vimeo, but Facebook’s adoption of it in 2009 made the feature become one of the most powerful online tools. Since then, it’s been implemented seemingly everywhere on the Web.

Whether like it or not, “Like” button is one of the most powerful online tools ever created.

Gamification Element of Social Media Can Be Negative or Even Toxic

Nowadays, this gamification element of social media seems to be accepted without much questioning, but it can be potentially negative or even toxic. Let me cite an interesting article here:

There’s plenty of evidence that likes, or the drive to attain them, can be incredibly damaging for some individuals’ mental health. Likes are a basic, yet powerful, form of validation. I suspect most of us have been a little disappointed when a post we’ve made gains very few likes, even though we thought it would get more. For most of us, this is probably a minor disappointment, but for some it can cause a great deal of anxiety. –“The power of likes on social media: Friend or foe?

Apart from my own website, I’ve been posting photos on Tumblr and Flickr, but I do feel a little discouraged by the fact that my pages have never “taken off” after all these years.

Hobby of Photography Isn’t a Competition

That said, I won’t let the disappointment get to me, because I know my hobby of photography isn’t a competition. Photography is all about what makes me happy.

To me, one of the most blissful things in life is shooting waterfront cityscapes in solitude at blue hour on a clear day. I love nothing more than seeing the warm sunset sky turning into beautiful blue hour and capturing cityscapes with a few minutes of long exposure.

Marina Bay (Singapore) at dusk with 194 seconds exposure. Whenever I slow down and take waterfront cityscapes with long exposure, I’m really happy and “in the moment”.

At the end of the day, if there is any element of competition in photography, it’s the one against ourselves. We should be competing with the yesteryear version of ourselves to improve and take better photos. And we will know when we have improved. We don’t need to count the number of “likes” in order to validate our own growth as photographers.


About the author: Joey J. is a photography enthusiast, avid traveler, and casual web designer/developer based in Singapore. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Joey’s work on his website and Tumblr. This article was also published here.



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